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Formula 1

Formula 1 cars in iconic non-F1 places

by Matt Beer
4 min read

Fernando Alonso taking an Alpine Formula 1 machine around the full Le Mans circuit ahead of the 2021 24 Hours was an evocative rarity: an F1 car on hallowed turf for another branch of motorsport.

F1 does of course have Le Mans heritage, with the 1967 French Grand Prix having been held there, but that was a generation ago and on the shorter Bugatti circuit. Saturday’s demo gave us the image of a current-era F1 car on the Mulsanne and other parts of the course synonymous purely with sportscar racing’s greatest event.

It got us thinking about other similar times when F1 cars have ventured to unusual iconic motorsport venues.


Vodafone’s backing of both the McLaren F1 team and the Triple Eight squad in V8 Supercars led to the 2008 F1 title-winning car tackling legendary Bathurst 1000 venue Mount Panorama in the hands of both Jenson Button and Australian legend Craig Lowndes early in 2011.

With the circuit being partly made up of public roads, the pair had to choose their lines carefully to avoid the high crown in the middle of the track. They reached 193mph on the long Conrod Straight and lapped in 1m49s/1m50s, but felt with the car actually set up for Bathurst (it was running in Melbourne spec) and a bit of practice time, top speeds of 225mph and lap times 10s quicker were possible.

Lowndes getting a go in an F1 car also carried a strong air of ‘might have been’. A rising single-seater star early in his career, after winning the V8 title and Bathurst at the first attempt in 1996 he briefly diverted onto the F1 ladder with a season as Juan Pablo Montoya’s team-mate at Helmut Marko’s Formula 3000 squad.

Expectations for what he could do with his lack of relevant experience were far too high, and with no budget for the second season he desperately needed, Lowndes returned home to spend the rest of his career racking up touring car accolades instead.


Ferrari Daytona demo run 2016

F1 demonstration runs are a staple of Ferrari’s annual World Finals event, where its various customer GT racing championship come together for their deciders. It usually takes place in Italy, and those F1 demos taking place at Mugello felt tantalising enough at the time.

But as a one-off for 2016, Ferrari took the event across the Atlantic and used Daytona International Speedway’s road course.

And it brought Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel and a pair of F1 cars (albeit of 2009 vintage) with it.

F1 is, of course, keen to add more American venues. And it’s toyed with piggybacking on US motorsport heritage before when it pulled off the once absolutely unthinkable coup of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a specially-built road course.

Given that actually happened, an F1 grand prix at Daytona isn’t completely fanciful. But equally, F1 at Indy wasn’t the US breakthrough the championship had hoped for, and its focus is very much elsewhere in America right now.


Ralph Firman was British Formula 3 champion and Macau Grand Prix winner in 1996, but then took a career detour in Japan and didn’t actually make it onto the F1 grid until a disappointing single season with Jordan seven years later.

Given the team was fading by then, Firman’s luck was abysmal and his pace was understandably not a match for experienced team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella, the season was fairly miserable.

In fact Firman’s F1 highlight arguably came after he’d made his final GP start. While still waiting to hear if he’d be kept on for 2004 (he wasn’t), Firman was entrusted with a demo run around Macau’s glorious Guia street circuit in the 2003 Jordan-Ford F1 car – one he took very seriously..

“I decided not to hold back,” said Firman, of his outright lap record smashing 1m59s pace, achieved despite difficulty even getting around the ultra-tight Melco hairpin. He admitted the team had been taking bets on whether he’d even manage get around the first lap in one piece.


Everything else on this list is an actual racetrack, but while the Bonneville Salt Flats may not be associated with racing, as they’re the venue of choice for land speed record attempts, the Honda F1 team was certainly venturing onto new territory with its project to get an F1 car up to 400km/h (248.6mph) there.

Test driver Alan van der Merwe was the driver entrusted with the project, which involved two years of work. Van der Merwe admitted the 400km/h mark was an arbitrary target set by the marketing department that a little-modified 2005 F1 car was never really going to be suitable for.

Despite soon finding out just how ill-equipped the lightweight F1 car – soon modified to feature a stability fin at the back in place of its rear wing – was for the task, the project team did achieve 413km/h (257mph) on a test run in the Mojave desert. On officially measured record bids, the best it managed on a run that ticked all the FIA record attempt boxes was 397.360km/h (247mph).



The Nurburgring is of course familiar turf for F1 cars, and even its fearsome Nordschleife version has a long history of hosting grands prix.

But as the long track dropped off the F1 calendar in 1976, BMW’s 2007 F1 run there with Nick Heidfeld was still something wildly out of the ordinary and definitely worthy of this list.

Using a race-spec 2006 car with its ride-height slightly raised, Heidfeld tackled his mission in style with a 8m34s lap time and a top speed of 171mph.

Which other F1 demo runs at unlikely motorsport venues stick in your mind? Let us know in the comments

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